Existentialism and the existential approach in the philosophy of life

January 16, 2021

Hello, dear readers of the KtoNaNovenkogo.ru blog. Existentialism is usually associated with a gloomy worldview: life is decay, there is no meaning in it, a person is tragically alone.

Existential philosophy reflected and determined the mood of the 20th century in the West, when humanistic ideas about the greatness of man were greatly shaken.

Two world wars, the invention of weapons of mass destruction, scientific and technological progress that turns daring fantastic ideas into reality - all this became a trigger for the existential perception of life.

Basic ideas of existentialism:

  • in the center is the existence of each individual person, his “I”;
  • a person’s external life and his environment are not important, only his inner being is important;
  • a pessimistic way of perceiving the world: life seems tragic and meaningless;
  • a person is free in his choice;
  • life has no purpose, what is important is existence itself, being;
  • denial of science.

These ideas are supported by representatives of the bourgeoisie. Existentialists have different political, social and religious views. But they are similar in that they consider negative emotions to be the most important human emotions: suffering, fear, concern and others.

Existential problems

Existential problems or existential crisis is a condition that appears in a person when he cannot understand what the meaning of his life is, what its value is and why he lives. As a rule, such questions are asked by people who live in developed countries. Because their basic needs have already been met and the struggle for survival is over.

For example:

  • “What is the point of building relationships if all people die alone?”
  • “What is the purpose of my life?”
  • “What’s the point of what I do if I’m soon forgotten?”
  • “How do I know that what I’m doing is good?”

Goals of existentialism

Existentialism places great emphasis on human education. In particular, education should prepare a child for life. Namely:

  • teach him to recognize his true “I”. The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that there is an “I” that we are at a certain moment because we exist, and there is a “I” that we become because we work on ourselves;
  • help him realize himself. For self-realization it is very important to understand yourself, your emotions;
  • prepare him for tragedies in life. Namely, accept the fact of your future death and learn to enjoy life;
  • learn to make your own decisions; explain that a person is free in his choice;
  • help him adjust socially. Existentialism teaches that, first of all, social adaptation means the ability to value not only one’s freedom, but also the freedom of other people;
  • help your child develop unique character traits;
  • instill in him a sense of responsibility. Existentialists are confident that a person makes his own choice and is responsible for it.

Existential human problems

The desire for self-development is a natural survival mechanism, since without it the human race would never have reached the current level of development. The problem is the obstacles that lie in wait on this path; one of the obstacles is often an existential crisis, formed from contradictions within the individual. A neurosis-like state appears when there is no need to worry about the minimal needs of existence.

The desire to argue for their own existence appears in most subjects, but for some, the arguments turn out to be primitive and complex due to deep religiosity or embedded “instructions” of a different order.

Existential problems arise at the moment of disappointment in previously chosen ideals. The individual ceases to feel satisfaction from the growth of status or loses faith in the unprecedented value of his own existence. Another reason for such experiences may be a feeling of the inevitability of death.

Sometimes it may seem as if such thoughts only come to the minds of those with a lot of free time, since hard-working individuals need to solve many pressing problems every day and all their strength goes towards survival.

In part, this view is correct, since subjects of creative professions are more likely to have existential reflections; individuals engaged in physical activity are less predisposed to delving into the “sidelines” of their own personality, however, they are not completely protected from this.

The following prerequisites for the emergence of existential experience can be identified:

– loss of a loved one;

– use of psychedelics;

– a threat to one’s own existence;

– prolonged isolation;

– separation from children, loved ones.

In the course of existential reflection, the individual has to face the confrontation generated by the feeling of the significance of his own existence and the simultaneous understanding of its futility. The inability to find a solution to the current situation is transformed into existential despondency, which is characterized by a loss of interest in one’s own future.

The escalation of a crisis often provokes a desire to end one’s supposedly meaningless existence. Because it doesn't seem to be able to do any good. When an individual is faced with such a contradiction, it is incredibly difficult for him to resolve the problematic situation on his own.

History of existentialism

The founder of existentialism is considered to be the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Even in the first half of the 19th century, the philosopher expressed ideas close to existentialism.

In addition to the works of Kierkegaard, existentialists also drew inspiration from the works of such philosophical scientists as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Edmund Husserl, Oswald Spengler, Henri Bergson, Georg Simmel and others.

It is no coincidence that the concept of existentialism was introduced by the German philosopher Heinemann in 1929. The atmosphere in the German Empire after the First World War provided good soil for the flourishing of negative emotions: worthlessness of life, abandonment, fear, loneliness.

It is necessary to distinguish

Obsessions are characterized as pathological, discomforting images and reasoning. But according to statistics, 90% of healthy people in the world experience unwanted thoughts.

It is worth distinguishing between obsessive and unwanted thinking. The latter is a completely natural phenomenon. Occurs in situations of tension, possible danger and stress, as well as during the experience of negative emotions. For example, you are going on a long car trip. It's winter, the temperature is minus, and there may be ice. You have concerns about the road, that the track will be slippery. If it snows, the situation will get worse. There is a possibility of an accident. And you begin to be tormented by sad fears about a possible accident and your life.

In this case, such unwanted reasoning is quite normal, since it has a logical basis. The brain worked on the principle of associative thinking: it established a connection between the information received, feelings and reasoning.

When associations become illogical, inexplicable, and alarming, it’s time to talk about obsessive thinking. The teenager is terribly afraid that he will deliberately kick an elderly person. Or a person is afraid that he will spit in the interlocutor’s face. Such thoughts are not supported by facts and logic, however, they excessively torture their bearers.

Obsessions should be distinguished from rumination, the deliberate mental return to experienced events or feelings. The individual consciously grinds in his mind how he acted in a given situation and becomes fixated on actions. Everyone is familiar with circumstances when, remembering a past event, we say to ourselves: we should have done it differently, we said something wrong, we answered wrongly, if we had done it this way, then everything would have turned out differently.

Rumination makes a person feel helpless and incompetent, slows down progress, but, nevertheless, is a conscious choice of a person.

Personality in existentialism

A person is free to choose and determines his own behavior. Everything that does not belong to the inner “I” of a person does not matter, the whole world is spinning because a person exists. Human existence is cleared of social conventions.

People are alienated from each other. Existentialists understand that relationships between people cannot be eliminated, but relationships are considered an escape from one’s “I”; they deplete a person’s inner world. And nature is something foreign, not related to the inner world of the individual.

Proponents of the theory do not believe that nature creates a person as he is. They believe that the essence of a person is not predetermined, is not given to him in advance and is completely absent. A person chooses his own essence and nature.

Existentialist philosophers

A. Camus is a Nobel laureate who did not consider his views existential at all. However, the influence of Jaspers and other adherents of this philosophy is clearly visible in his work. True, Camus was alien to religiosity, although he did not consider himself an atheist. He was just not satisfied with escaping from reality in the hope of a better life “over there.” Without trying to fight the absurdity of the world around him, he suggested accepting it as a given. He embodied the struggle for the best in his creativity, and although he did not deny rebellions, he was against their extreme manifestations.

N. Abbagnano is the author of the “positive” existential view. Fully accepting freedom, he believed that there was always an option that was “healthy.” He turned typical reproaches against this movement into positive aspects, with the help of which it is easier to understand the rational world. The main conditions of human existence are freedom and uncertainty.

K. Jaspers - created clear formulations for this philosophical movement. He perceived cognition not as passive observation, but as a continuous process, the center of which is the personality itself. Abstract concepts in his formulations became very pathetic. A new look at philosophy turned suffering and death into its indivisible part.

M. Heidegger is his man - the hero of a tragic story. Real life becomes the antithesis of banality, an attempt to escape thoughts about the finitude of existence. In this existential world there is no place for compromises, deceptions, or illusions. His freedom goes in everything to the end - until death.

G. Marcel is the first representative of the existential philosophical movement originally from France. He was a very religious Catholic, a humanist. In addition to working as a literary critic, he composed music. In philosophy, he separated the concepts of being and owning something. He assigned a special role to the human body, considering it not only an object of possession, but also an integral part of existence. He saw the soul as an ideal form of existence.

J.P. Sartre - adhered to atheistic views. Created his own concept of freedom. I saw it as an integral part of human existence. Sartre denied inaction; his Personality constantly creates itself. The world around us has no value in itself; only awareness and choice make it “being.”

Representatives of existentialism

Existentialist philosophers:

  • Søren Kierkegaard;
  • Friedrich Nietzsche;
  • Sigmund Freud;
  • Edmund Husserl;
  • Martin Heidegger;
  • Karl Jaspers;
  • Oswald Spengler;
  • Henri Bergson;
  • Georg Simmel;
  • Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev;
  • Lev Isaakovich Shestov.

Existentialist writers:

  • Jean-Paul Sartre;
  • Albert Camus;
  • Gabriel Marcel;
  • Simone de Beauvoir.

The books of these authors contain ideas of existentialism. They glorify such existential concepts as alienation, loneliness, freedom, absurdity, fear, emptiness.

It is believed that existentialists found the beginnings of their ideas in the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka and Henrik Ibsen. It is known that Jean-Paul Sartre and Nietzsche, having read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work “The Brothers Karamazov”, then quoted Ivan Karamazov’s thoughts about God, in particular his view that if there is no God, everything is permitted.

Kierkegaard's existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard argued that it is impossible to comprehend existence through comprehension. You can only experience it, that is, live it. According to the philosopher, each person has his own inner “I”, which cannot be understood from the external environment. A person can understand who he is and realize his existence only unconsciously, abstracted from everything external.

Nietzsche's existentialism

Friedrich Nietzsche

According to Nietzsche, God no longer exists; man can only rely on his own will. Moreover, the will must be precisely for power; this is the essence of man. The philosopher believed that a person’s inner “I” is his instincts. Nietzsche's existentialism is closely related to nihilism.


(From Latin nihil - “nothing”) a philosophical concept introduced by Nietzsche, associated with the depreciation of values, the meaninglessness of life and the absence of something permanent and unchanging.

Husserl's existentialism

Edmund Husserl

Husserl denied the importance of the external environment, the real world. There is only the reality of a specific person, which can be understood based on one’s own feelings and impressions.

Husserl wrote about the “pure consciousness” of man, which exists independently of man, although it is located in him. Such consciousness leads to an “ideal being”, which cannot be known experimentally or through comprehension - through contemplation alone.

Sartre's existentialism

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre places the individuality of each person above all else. At the same time, human subjectivity is primary, it shapes what a person is, his essence. The philosopher believed that a person independently makes his choice and becomes someone. A person does not have an essence inherent in him by someone or something (nature or society); he is free to make decisions and determine his essence.

How to Overcome an Existential Crisis?

If you understand that you are overtaken by an existential crisis, how to overcome it is the second thought that visits an intelligent person. There are four ways to get out of an existential crisis:

1. You can close this topic for yourself, ban the thought of the futility of existence, and isolate yourself from disturbing thoughts.

2. Turn off critical thinking by fixing yourself on rules and beliefs (moral, religious, social). You can choose those that suit you.

3. Sometimes distraction works. In this case, people immerse themselves in entertainment, travel, and focus their attention on different tasks. This could be a hobby, gambling, extreme sports.

4. Creative people channel their despair and fear into something constructive.

Overcoming an existential crisis is possible when a person realizes that he can control his life. He no longer wants to do what is prescribed and decided in advance. He gains the freedom he sought and is ready to accept responsibility for it. Setting tasks for himself, relying on intuition, evaluates the results. Such a crisis means growing up and maturing of the individual.

Control your thoughts

Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Do everything to put meaning into your life: do what you love, become a volunteer, or simply show compassion for your neighbor.

Gratitude journal

To overcome negative feelings, a person can write down in a diary all the things for which he is grateful (his talents, achievements, family, etc.)

Know yourself

Self-knowledge can also help a person. If it is difficult for him, he can ask those close to him to identify his positive qualities, what positive impact he has had on their lives, what his strongest, most wonderful qualities are.

Don't try to find all the answers at once

This doesn't mean you shouldn't look for them, but some questions won't have answers. A person can try to break global questions into smaller answers. Then work towards being satisfied with learning the answers to smaller questions. They also make up the picture as a whole.

Practices for getting rid of feelings of meaninglessness

What could be worse than an internal emptiness growing every day? A person has nothing to cling to in order to somehow justify his still ongoing life.

  1. Allow yourself to completely immerse yourself in a state of helplessness , awareness of the meaninglessness of existence. You are the most unfortunate person. There will be no sympathy.
  2. Concentrate on the last phrase, let it be the background of all thoughts. Tested: when you realize this 100%, you will want to do something. And some meaning will appear.
  3. Try to find inspiration in some areas . Creativity, volunteer help, etc.
  4. Just wait . Some argue that everything passes, and this condition will pass.
  5. Concentrate on specific actions , skipping global goals.
  6. Choose your life credo and live by it , without fear or reproach. You can find it with the help of philosophy, religious movements, biographies of the lives of some people you respect (however, you should not copy them completely. These people became famous because they went their own, unique path).
  7. Seek help from a psychologist or psychotherapist. The advice is of course the most obvious, but sometimes you really need a disinterested third party.

Existentialism and religion

Among the existentialists there are atheists (Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche), Catholics (Gabriel Honore Marcel), and Protestants (Karl Jaspers).

At the same time, existentialism and religion are not directed against each other. Existentialists believe that faith is a ridiculous concept, but still believe that it is important for knowing the truth.

Atheistic existentialism

Existentialist atheists criticize religion. In their opinion, the origin of man is inexplicable. But man is free to choose his existence and his essence. His existence is not predetermined by any higher power.

Existentialists are sure that the world is hostile towards man, so you need to renounce it, from the entire external environment and turn inside yourself. A person begins to experience fear (Angst) from a feeling of loneliness, isolation from the world, and indifference to everything that happens. This fear, unlike fear (furcht), does not arise from something specific. It takes over a person completely. Life, according to philosophers, is devoid of meaning, and existence is devoid of purpose.

Religious existentialism

Religious existentialists believe that to truly live, one must establish a connection with God. They agree with the idea of ​​existentialist atheists that the world is hostile, but they are sure that when a person is overcome by fear, at that moment the person turns inward and tries to find God within himself. Moreover, it is God who commands man how he should live.

"Positive" existentialism

In 1951, the Vatican accused existentialism of being excessively pessimistic. After which Catholic existentialists created a new direction - “positive” existentialism. Among the representatives of this trend were Nicola Abbagnano, Errigo Paci, Armando Vedaldi. Philosophers base their views on religion, citing the latter’s similarity with philosophy.

According to followers of “positive” existentialism, a person has many possibilities. It does not allow a person to withdraw into himself and disconnect from the whole world. They argue that a person always has the opportunity to find his true path in life, despite failures and suffering.

See also the meaning of Religion.

Why are we experiencing an existential crisis?

Most often this happens when we begin to reflect on our purpose in life. Due to regular routines and monotonous work environment, we become dissatisfied with our lives and start wondering why we keep working so much? Where is all this going? What do I get out of life after all this work?

This raises many significant and profound questions, such as:

- What is life? – What is my goal? – Why do I exist?

Existential thoughts begin to arise and the person ponders all sorts of personal questions.

What is a sense of life? Why live on? These thoughts can be explained by Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy explains that people are driven by five basic needs. These are psychology, safety, love, respect and self-realization. In the last part, self-actualization is the existential crisis part of discovering your purpose.

Signs You're Currently Experiencing an Existential Crisis

Unfortunately, experiencing an existential crisis can bring up unpleasant feelings. This can make you feel lost and depressed. Your general mood becomes melancholic.

People experiencing an existential crisis feel like they no longer know who they are. They feel powerless and struggle to find motivation. It became a global phenomenon involving record numbers of people.

You feel empty

This can often come from feeling unimportant. The universe is so big that it's easy to feel small.

This creates insecurity within us. When we are born and experience the world at a young age, we enjoy the pleasures and adventures that the universe has to offer.

We just love to climb trees and run through fields.

It's only when we get older and take on responsibility that we begin to question everything.

Learning to cope with the experience of an existential crisis will ultimately help us grow, but for now it is very difficult.

We stop having fun and become more objective about how we spend our time and how we fit into the world.

You feel powerless

When we are young, there is a feeling that the Universe is always working for us, and not against us. The Universe is our friend and mentor.

As we get older, we face new challenges and financial responsibilities, and life becomes more complex. There is more pressure from society and from people to do something with our lives.

The playful relationship with the universe has ended and it begins to seem like it is working against us. We begin to feel that something is being imposed on us. Other people now control our time and our lives.

This makes us feel a strong sense of powerlessness. It's no longer about the entertainment, but how we fit into the experience.

Is all this really worth it? Many people going through an existential crisis don’t feel like this is the case.

You feel completely different from others

Some people do not suffer from existential thinking and can easily live their lives. No matter what they are going through, they can easily focus on their tasks.

However, when you are in the midst of an existential crisis, it takes over your entire life. You constantly feel different. You constantly ponder the existence and immensity of everything.

Because it is such a difficult experience, you are left with a constant feeling of emptiness and powerlessness. It becomes part of your daily emotional makeup. You always feel completely different from others.

4. Your past achievements seem meaningless.

Experiencing a real threat tends to put your life in quite a harsh perspective.

In the grand scheme of the Universe, any big things we achieve in our lives tend to become insignificant and small.

We think, “What did I really do that made a difference in the world?” Many people think so. However, those experiencing an existential crisis feel even worse because they see less meaning in everything.

The problem is that we compare our achievements to the greatness of the Universe. How can you compete with something incomprehensible?


Transcendence (from the Latin transcendere - “to step over”) is a term in philosophy that means moving from one area to another, usually from the real and earthly to the otherworldly.

Existentialists have many definitions of the word "transcendence". According to some, transcendence is true being. It is necessary in an uncomfortable and unfriendly world, constrained by social conventions, to find a way to exist truly. Religious existentialists believe that such authentic existence can only be achieved through transcendence, that is, contact with God.

According to other philosophers, transcendence is the exit of human consciousness beyond its boundaries; a situation in which consciousness moves from the present to the future.

See also the meaning of Philosophy.


In order to delve into the essence of the philosophy of existence, you can appreciate the contrast of eras, for example, the 16th and 20th centuries. Remembering such movements in art as Baroque, classicism, sentimentalism and so on, we will be even more impressed by the fact that after the darkened Middle Ages people smiled at life, and in the 1920s that same Renaissance greatness of man almost completely depreciated. Of course, history prepared people for this, and one should not be so categorical, because there were plenty of reasons for the emergence of existentialism over four centuries: wars and revolutions, economic instability, incurable diseases, human powerlessness in the face of natural disasters. All this explains our disappointment in the monumentality of an individual and pushes us to search for our place in the world.

Existentialists were the first to declare the absence of meaning in life. Previously, a person found the truth in faith, in love, in wealth, in enlightenment and self-development, but the cruel truth comes out: no one can avoid a death sentence. Thus, people began to lose themselves as individuals and slowly but surely came to the conclusion that there was no point. Existentialism is a philosophy that argues that it is becoming difficult not to lose yourself in the world. The essence of the philosophy of life lies in finding your purpose, your “I”. Everyone must find themselves.

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